Academic Freedom Denied at Marquette · 29 January 2007

By Daniel
Filed under: Press Coverage The Triumvirate

After months of negotiation, back and forth, and campus media attention, the Office of Student Development has formally denied the application of Students for Academic Freedom.

While I personally have some caveats about SAF’s desired agenda, I think the Administration’s rationale for denial is quite faulty.

In the letter from OSD Dean Dr. Mark McCarthy, the Administration says,

[F]or any group that articulates an affiliation with a local, state, national, or international organization, it is our responsibility and practice to consider the mission, vision, and practices of that organization in light of Marquette’s mission, purposes, and policies.

I entirely agree that MU should evaluate the national affiliate. However, in cases when a parent organization’s agenda conflicts with Marquette’s mission, the past practice has been to simply say that Marquette’s mission takes precendence in the specific areas of disagreement, not to deny the group outright. Thus, even though both the national Democratic Party and Amnesty International support abortion and gay marriage, we have College Democrats and AI on campus. If Marquette objected to certain parts of the nationwide SAF Information Center, common practice would have been to specify that the Marquette chapter could not advocate those objectionable parts of the national group’s agenda.

Additional comments made to student media after the denial are equally questionable. According to Marquette Tribune reporting,

The university “objected to types of programming and activities the group proposed as some of their functions,” said Mark McCarthy, assistant vice president of student affairs and dean of student development. “The main focus of such an organization is on academic freedom, which is really under preview [sic] of faculty.”

This is typical of the administrators’ mindset - students are to be babied. They bring nothing valuable to campus but their tuition dollars and butts in the lecture hall chairs. Academic freedom is of interest to everybody! SAF argues that students need the freedom to express themselves in the classroom or in assignments without fear of ideological punishment. I suppose it should not be surprising that the administration that does not see a need for a student voice on governance issues does not believe students have academic freedom.

Dr. McAdams over at the Marquette Warrior blog provides a statement from Brigid O’Brien Miller, director of University communication:

As you may know, the Office of Student Development worked with the student over a period of several months regarding concerns about the group’s proposed constitution and discussed numerous options or revisions for the student to consider. When this student decided not to amend the constitution, the office notified the student that the group would not be recognized as a Marquette student organization.

i.e. It’s all Chuck’s fault for being inflexible. This is a stretch at best. I know Chuck worked very hard on this and tried to find common ground with the administrators through multiple meetings. Frankly, there was no comprimise to be had - the administration did not like the group’s name, its goals, or its fundamental premise: that students have academic freedom. The only comprimise that would satisfy would reduce the group to nothingness. It is a shame that the University has chosen the low road of painting Chuck as obstructionist rather than admitting a fundamental difference of opinion and defending their position.

Some of the issues identified in the proposed constitution, i.e., reading lists, academic conferences and classroom speakers, are curricular decisions within the purview of individual faculty members or faculty departments. Preserving this faculty discretion is a key tenet of academic freedom.

The group wanted students to have access to reading lists for courses before being asked to sign up for those courses. That is an entirely reasonable request - students should know what they’re signing up for. Speakers and conferences are curricular decisions properly up to faculty - but it is also proper for students whose tuition funds these events to point out when one after another after another after another is liberal in its ideological agenda.

Doubtless, Dr. McAdams’ blog, The Warrior and others on campus will continue to criticize and critique Administration and faculty actions and activities from our unofficial perches. After this disappointing rejection, I hope Chuck will add his voice by starting a blog or something, so that even if he cannot host lectures, etc., he can still engage in the conversation about academic freedom on campus.